Is iPad the end of free content?

My resolution not to blog about Apple is withering away in the warm glow of early adoption.

My iPad arrived two days ago turning me into a four-year old boy on Xmas eve. Yesterday, a queue of cooing colleagues snaked around my desk. Everyone wants one.

So two days into ownership, this is what I think it means.

1. It WON’T replace laptops … Not yet anyway.

iPad is a device for consuming media, not for creating it.  It’s hideous to type on.  But lovely to browse with.

It’s much nicer to swipe and tap with your finger than to point and click with a mouse.  So whether tablets get physical keyboards or laptops get natural user interfaces, this will change device design.

2. It’s ALREADY the device I want to use for casual surfing.

How did I ever manage without something that’s always on, weighs nothing and doesn’t burn my thighs?  Enough said.

3. It WILL change the way I consume newspapers and magazines.

WIRED magazine on iPad is highly readable and wow-inducing.  It pushes the boundary of what’s magazine and what’s interactive media and for the first time ever I would RATHER have a magazine in electronic than print format.

Talking of formats, I’d much rather read the Financial Times on my little iPad than wrestle with a print broadsheet on the train.

Coincidently, my WIRED magazine subscription got delivered on the same day as my iPad.  I still haven’t opened the paper version.

4. It MIGHT change the way I buy books.

Integrated search, in-line dictionaries and the ability to carry half the British Library in my hand are nice.

But I wrestle with this.  You see, my Mother was a teacher.  My maternal grandfather was a Cambridge academic.  I’m co-author of a book (here … thank you for asking).  Books are in my blood; almost religiously.  I love the novelty and utility of eBooks.  But they don’t take me back to when I was six years old and my Mum read poems to me.  There’s almost something sacrilegious about them.

Maybe that’s just generational change-resistance.

5. It WILL make me pay more for media.

Hello iPad.  Goodbye free content?

I know several entrepreneurs whose attempts to charge for online content succeeded about as well as King Canute’s wave management.  iPad apps might possible turn the tide against free content because the experience is so good.

Pricing models for iPad media content are a little Darwinian right now.  They range from The Times £9.99 per month subscription to Men’s Health’s $2.99  per issue to Wired’s free content.  Which pricing model proves the fittest for the iPad environment remains to be seen.  But I personally think it will be disruptive of the free content model.

In summary

Is the iPad useful?  Definitely.  Is it compelling?  Hmm … kind of.  Is it a disruptive innovation?  Possibly.  Is it the end of the laptop?  No.

Now, repeat after me:

I must not blog about Apple.  I must not blog about Apple. I must not blog about Apple …

About Simon Kirby

Digital strategist, CX advisor and agile Product Owner. My core expertise is aligning the political, strategic and human factors that determine the success of digital, CX and innovation projects. Doing that helps organisations deliver better experiences, happier customers, distinctive propositions and improved commercial bottom-line

9 Responses to Is iPad the end of free content?

  1. Pingback: Is iPad the end of free content? | Opine Consulting | Media Point - O Ponto de Encontro de todos os interessados nos Media!

  2. Is this the end of the free content model? I hope not but if it allows the model to be heavily revised and rethought, then I’m all in favour. All of us on the web consume content but the number of us who generate it is much smaller. So if there was a vote on whether content should be free, the consumers would win the vote. If there was a vote on whether iPads should be free, I know which was that vote would go too.

    But there has to be a way for generators of original content to make a bit of money. I generate original content on my website (here: … thank you for asking) but I don’t make a cent from that. There are only two models: to litter my site with adverts, often tacky adverts for tacky products, and take whatever crumbs Google allow to fall from their table; or to put some of the content behind a paywall and hope somebody subscribes. But consumers are resistant to subscription and – in the pre iApp world – subscription prices had to be set high because there would never be than many subscribers. And I’d still have to give away most of the content – in order to prove the subscription would be worthwhile – and then watch people systematically cut-and-paste it on to Wikipedia.

    Is this all now changing? In Apple’s brave new world, significant money can now be made from 59p apps. It’s clear that the resistance to paying for an app is much lower than the resistance to a website subscription so prices can be lower. Something significant is happening to price elasticity.

    For small sites like mine, currently unable to make any money at all, this new world could be a saviour.

  3. Simon Kirby says:

    How do we make money from content? The market stats are sobering.

    There are 134 million bloggers out of an internet nation of 1.8 billion souls. So the average blog will have 13.5 readers.

    Factor in distribution, with audiences of millions on one tail and audiences of one (i.e. the author) at the other and the median blog readership is tiny.

    Without a powerful brand, I think that leaves only a few strategies. 1) a niche, high value approach for a few clients. 2) a “freemium” approach where your content is simply your own advert for charged for services or 3) doing something so radical, differentiated and hard-to-imitate that you attract your own large audience.

    Being more specific though, I can’t help but wonder whether the properties of the iPad model could let you build out something quite radical and interesting. We should have a conversation …

  4. I must take issue with your mathematics (sorry but statistics is a specialist subject of mine). We are allowed to consume more than one blog each so the average number of readers per blog could be much more than 13.4. Not that it is. The data implies that a blog will attract a median readership of 30 after two years. Pretty pathetic, isn’t it?

    The freemium model is ok for some. For the music business, content (songs) are increasingly “given away” (shared) as an advert for premium services (concerts) Even I have a premium service ( – thanks for asking) so it works for me but for the average content creator, the sort of person who used to use dead trees as their medium, there is no premium service. We need the model to evolve, or they will have to and get proper jobs and we will lose their contribution.

    • Simon Kirby says:

      I have learned a lesson about never commenting with a hangover. You are of course right. In the interests of openness, I do hope that readers will not take this as indicative of my statistical prowess :-)

  5. Free will always fail (sorry, just my pennies worth). The key word is value. If it has no value, it has no charge. You might not directly see that charge (advertising subsidies help with this), but it exists nonetheless.

    My main point though is not to take issue with the freemium debate, but rather to add a specific comment about the iPad (and tablets in general). They provide a different type of surfing experience. It is the first time I have ever surfed in a truly social context.

    I have a touchscreen PC in my kitchen, and we can huddle around it, but it isn’t hugely comfortable. Tablet PCs (I won’t suggest this is limited to Apple’s creation) have provided a real opportunity to curl up on the sofa and consume content as more than just an individual.

    The potential this represents for social surfing (not just “social” as it gets described in an online context) is huge in my opinion.

    One of the key aspects of shopping (in the real world) is wandering around the shops as a group of friends (more so for the female demographic perhaps). Extrapolate…

    • Simon Kirby says:

      I love your point about social context. Perhaps in 40 years time, there’ll be people reminiscing about how their parents read them poetry on tablets when they were six years old?

      The shopping point too is interesting. Over the weekend we were looking to buy a bed. Having an iPad while shopping makes real time price/value comparison not only possible, but natural. Should keep consumer price inflation down!

  6. Interestingly Scott Adams uses the same device to argue the other way…
    For what it’s worth i think we might see the growth of new combinations, musicians and marketeers, authors and publicists (not necessarily publishers) etc etc.
    There are probably very few people (jonathon coulton?) who have the creative, technical and marketing nouse to do this alone. But the old days of needing to sell your soul to a major label / publishing house are surely dying.

    • Simon Kirby says:

      I’d love to see that fragmented and spontaneously creative world develop. To some extent it already has. But I think it will co-exist with a curated, more corporate and (many would say) sterile world. I personally think that Europe will be nothing without it’s creativity because it’s inherently diverse.

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